Trump’s Dreamer Opportunity

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How to build goodwill as he looks to restrict illegal immigration.

dreamersDonald Trump ran on reducing illegal immigration, and no doubt he plans to follow through on border security. But if he’s looking to build some political goodwill and consensus as he does, the President-elect could consider a deal with Congress that protects so-called dreamers.

Last week Senators Dick Durbin, Lindsey Graham and Jeff Flake introduced bills that would shield from deportation some 800,000 millennials— “dreamers”—who were brought into the country illegally as kids. The bills offer Mr. Trump an opportunity to demonstrate magnanimity and maybe earn some political capital for the rest of his agenda.

In 2012 President Obama issued an executive order providing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). The order granted a temporary safe harbor to young illegal immigrants who are attending school or have graduated. Veterans are eligible as well. Dreamers are also allowed to apply for a two-year work permit, which could be renewed.

We’ve supported legalization for the dreamers even as we criticized the flimsy legal basis for Mr. Obama’s exercise of executive power. Mr. Trump could rescind the 2012 executive order, as some on the left are warning. In the heat of the primary campaign, he promised to deport all 11 million illegal immigrants. But he later narrowed that to criminal aliens and has recently softened his tone again.

In an interview with Time magazine this month, Mr. Trump suggested he was open to negotiating a deal for dreamers. “They got brought here at a very young age. They’ve worked here, they’ve gone to school here. Some were good students. Some have wonderful jobs,” he said. “And they’re in never-never land because they don’t know what’s going to happen.” The President-elect added “on a humanitarian basis, it’s a very tough situation,” and he’s right.

About 741,000 immigrants have applied for relief under DACA. Most would feel like strangers in a strange land if they were transplanted to, say, Guadalajara after being raised and educated in the U.S. And since they were brought here by their parents as young children, they lack mens rea—a guilty mind—that is the standard for proving criminality. Deporting the dreamers could cost hundreds of millions of dollars, while denying legal status could prevent them from getting jobs or matriculating in some American colleges.

Mr. Trump could provide dreamers an escape from never-never land by signing legislation that provides a constitutional underpinning for DACA while Congress negotiates a broader immigration reform. Messrs. Durbin and Graham last week proposed a bill to extend DACA for three years. A similar bill introduced by Mr. Flake would also expedite deportation of immigrants with criminal convictions.

Some Republicans may need an extra spoonful of law enforcement to make the legislation go down, but that should be negotiable. By distinguishing between immigrants who knowingly break the law and those who are unwitting accessories, Mr. Trump would demonstrate that he’s merely trying to enforce immigration law, not target Latinos.

Democrats would show themselves to be acting in bad faith if they reject this olive branch merely because they want to wield immigration as a partisan weapon. This could be a major victory for both Mr. Trump and Congress.


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